The case of the Indian rape victim, Miss Jayoti Singh Pandey, is an eye-opener. This highly despicable and condemnable incident has raised serious questions about the political leadership, the structure of policing, the law and order situation, moral values and the place of women in society.
The media portrays a woman as a sex symbol. Fingers are also pointed at the legitimacy and authenticity of the so-called effort to provide secure environment for women to live and work. Repugnant levels of female foeticide, female illiteracy, child marriage, sexual and work-place harassment, domestic violence, threatening and intolerance against women are indeed very harsh realities that women face and if not addressed with seriousness will increase chaos and inequality in society.
Such abhorrent incidents are witnessed not in India only one finds, to one’s dismay, many noticeable happenings of similar nature in our society also. This incident pointed to a deep-rooted misogyny and patriarchy which afflict our society, breeding structures, discourses and attitudes which condemn victims of sexual violence to a life of shame and silence. Misogyny and patriarchy are perpetuated and sustained by our collective participation. The patriarchal and male-chauvinistic discourses in our society are not limited to certain individuals. The government, society and media play a vital role in strengthening this deep-rooted solecism in the mentality of people that women are inferior; they are a threat to honour. So they should be controlled, dictated and commanded. We should all be blamed and the burden of accusations of rape, violence and harassment rests on our shoulders.
The role of governance in Pakistan is to protect women’s rights. Unfortunately, the track record has not been very good. Many flaws can be identified in the legislation and implementation of laws. For instance, the Hadood Ordinance requires of a woman to produce at least three witnesses to prove that she has been raped. In villages, the perpetrators of such heinous crimes are influential landlords who can wield their power and pressure the local police in this connection. If someone dares to speak out against them, they do not desist even from abducting a member of the victim’s family. This happens frequently because the law-enforcement agencies shy away from their due responsibility and duty. A majority of women remain unaware of their constitutional rights because they have no access to information or approach to those in authority. And, sadly, the government is least bothered to take satisfactory and appropriate measures to inform and educate working women as well as housewives about their rights. A young woman prefers to get beaten up brutally by her husband instead of reporting the abuse to police station.
We being part of this society rather strengthen this system of discrimination in one way or the other. We tend to demoralise the female members of our families by exhorting them to get back home before sunset. Even, very often, we monitor their movement with a certain amount of suspicion. Not only that we feel unduly concerned as to what they wear, how they talk and the manner in which they attract others’ attention. Advising them against paying attention to those around them — may it be their work-place, market or a public place — or even looking at strangers. Most of the families particularly the lower-middle class train their daughters for acceptance of unconditional obedience of the family elders. Continuing with this undesirable attitude, we participate in perpetuating this discrimination when we tell young women that a virtuous woman’s reputation is at stake each time she steps out of and hence warm them against blemishing their honour and dignity. Nevertheless, we ignore the domestic-abuse occurrences in our neighbourhood, because we do not want to poke our nose in someone’s personal affairs. We are responsible for such remorseful actions when each time we ask a woman to make some inappropriate and unreasonable sacrifices for the dignity of her family.
Sometimes we commit this offence when we oppose women’s participation in politics, believing that they are simply incapable of running the affairs of the country, when we think that religion does not allow them to come out of their homes to work with men. Then, we are to be blamed for failing to make laws against cruelties like wanni and sawara (the giving away of a woman to a rival party to settle a dispute. A swara exchange can be used to settle murder, adultery, kidnapping or another offence); and we vote for politicians who arrange to marry their daughters with the Holy Quran to save their property, when we do not seek consent of the girl before pushing her to marry a man they hardly know.
Women’s rights non-government organisations (NGO) and the so-called feminists also create problems for the opposite sex in Pakistan. Without realizing the ground realities and women’s problems they fight against ‘modernization’ and ‘westernization’.
Besides the government and society, media is also responsible for promoting stereotype and hackneyed mindset against women when movies are made with a mindless script, sexism, untamed masculinity and victimised femininity.
I never met Jayoti. I don’t know how she looked like, what her dreams were, and how she felt when she was victimised.
The mere condemning of all such heinous and despicable crimes would not work. We need a broader cultural and mental shift to re-evaluate and elevate the status of womenfolk in society. Only such an approach would ensure their safety and protection at workplace and provide them equal opportunities in various walks of life.